Before 1977 and the unleashing of "The Orange Crush," the Denver Broncos came off as a bit of a joke, unable to pull off regular winning seasons or win even one single playoff game.In general, Denver was a sleepy cow town back in those days, according to Colorado Public Radio (CPR). Home to hard-working families, ranchers, and mountain folk, the city and state were often overlooked, never receiving any national attention besides the annual Stock Show event. Then, in 1977, when the (somewhat blah) Broncos organization was 17 years old, they hired a new head coach named Red Miller, who knew how to utilize the talents of his defensive players. That fall, game by game, Miller and the Broncos put Denver on the map, winning 12 out of their 14 games and breathing new life into their fanbase. [caption id="attachment_32963" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Courtesy of Denver Broncos History[/caption]
"I caught ('Bronco Mania') like everybody else,” former Colorado Governor Dick Lamm said, according to CPR. “...It converted people who never dreamed that they'd be interested in football, and now they're reading the sports pages every Sunday."Decked out in orange, fans would literally be waiting for the Broncos at the airport when they returned to Denver after their away games. “I mean people were painting their houses orange, painting their cars orange,” former Broncos defensive back Billy Thompson told CPR. “It was the most excited I had ever seen in Colorado for any sports team.” And what was the secret to their victories -- to their sudden ability to win? The Broncos' crushing defense, which was quickly and accurately nicknamed "The Orange Crush." [gallery type="rectangular" ids="32968,32967,32959"] Suddenly, "sleepy and boring" Denver was discovering all these hidden talents -- like the crowd's ability to scream and go absolutely wild over a game ... like the ability of the old Mile High Stadium to vibrate and amplify crowd noise, making it one of the most difficult places for visiting NFL teams to play offense. All of these strengths capitalized on one another and multiplied exponentially, inspiring the team itself to keep crushing their opponents. And the high altitude most certainly played to the Broncos' advantage as well. The spark of team spirit and community pride that had been lying dormant beneath our city's ground had finally ignited. The stars aligned. The Broncos -- and Denver -- had found their sweet spot, their groove. [gallery type="rectangular" ids="32964,32965"]
That year, the Broncos qualified for the playoffs for the first time ever, clinching the AFC West title and going on to host (and win) two playoff games before propelling themselves to Super Bowl XII in January 1978, where they faced the Dallas Cowboys. Unfortunately, a victory at that Super Bowl was not to be. The players came across a little star-struck, a little bit "deer-in-headlights." And, unbeknownst to anyone, it would be four Super Bowls and 20 years before the Broncos would finally be crowned NFL champions. [caption id="attachment_32961" align="aligncenter" width="400"] Courtesy of Cleat Geeks[/caption] But after everything they'd overcome, the Orange Crush still considered it a "win." Thompson told CPR,
“We never quit and we played hard the whole game, and as we were leaving the field, Tommy (Jackson) asked me ‘Did we win or lose?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ Look at our fans. They gave us a standing ovation. I said, ‘Listen to that. How can we be losers with that?”As a whole, Denver was notably different after that 1977-78 season. Residents who lived through it believe that year was the catalyst for the "happening" city Denver was destined to become.
“It made me not want to leave Colorado,” former Denver Post photographer Kenn Bisio said. “...It changed the way people lived their lives in the state of Colorado. It changed the way legislators were doing their legislation. There may have been conflict at the state house between Republicans and Democrats, but they both loved the Broncos.”With John Elway at the helm as quarterback starting in 1983, the Broncos would go on to compete in Super Bowls XXI (1987), XXII (1988), and XXIV (1990), suffering heartbreaking losses each time. They finally achieved back-to-back Super Bowl victories in 1998 and 1999, then clinched one more Super Bowl title in February 2016.
Since 1975, the Broncos have only had seven losing seasons. And with five Super Bowl losses, they currently hold the record for the most Super Bowl losses in the NFL. Even so, the Orange Crush spawned a united fanbase that spanned all cultures and demographics and took the entire city of Denver to the next level. [gallery type="rectangular" ids="32966,32962"] So sure, even though we might be bummed that the Broncos aren't part of this year's Super Bowl match (and let's be honest, true Broncos fans are rooting AGAINST the Patriots), we can sit and relax, watch commercials, and sip on Orange Crush soda, in tribute. Thanks to the incredible spirit that was unleashed by the Orange Crush of 1977-78, Denver and Colorado have evolved -- and beautifully. We reap the benefits every day. [caption id="attachment_32957" align="aligncenter" width="400"] Courtesy of Denver Broncos History[/caption] Forty years later, Bronco Mania is still very much alive. From John Elway to Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning and everything in between, we can always count on the Broncos to give us a wild ride! And whether it's next year, or several years down the road, we can all be confident that the Broncos will make the adjustments that they need to make and become competitive again. They'll come back. They always do. Do you remember the Orange Crush from 40 years ago? We'd love to hear your memories in the comments below!